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The Immortalists

Updated: Mar 29, 2020

I read The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin this past month, as a buddy read.  The structure of the book made it the perfect choice for a buddy read.  We split the book in four sections and discussed at the end of each week. The Immortalists is a literary fiction novel about the Gold siblings, Varya, Daniel, Klara, and Simon, who visit a fortune teller who is able to predict the dates of their deaths.  They are at the cusp of adolescence and seek the mystical woman out as entertainment, but end up living out their lives with that meeting in the back of their minds.  Simon moves to San Francisco as a teenager and becomes a professional dancer.  Klara pursues her dreams of being a magician on stage, Daniel becomes a doctor in the armed forces, and Varya studies aging, longevity, and immortality.  Each character's story is told in one section, with the prologue being their initial meeting with the fortune teller.  This book walks in the hazy mist between choice and destiny, reality and illusion, living and surviving.

The Gold siblings do not have much in common, other than the fact that they are siblings and they visited a fortune teller who predicted their death dates.  Each one processes the news differently.  Simon suppresses the visit and tries to live his life with reckless abandonment.  Klara pursues her dream of opening up people's minds through her magic, while silently suffering with her own internal demons.  Daniel lives his life trying to make the right choices, but feeling inadequate and without purpose, always wishing things had been different with his siblings.  Varya devotes her life to scientific research on how to increase the human life span, while sacrificing all of life's pleasures and, in some sense, barely living at all.

I loved the structure of The Immortalists.  This was the perfect book for a buddy read because the book was already split up into discussion sections. The Immortalists started out slow for me, but ended up picking up speed midway.  It was a slow burn for me and much more thought provoking than I expected.  The writing is dense and poetic, so it was a slower read.  The premise of the book is centered around the sibling's visit to the mystical woman who can predict when people will die.  Self fulfilling prophecy was something that was in the back of my mind the entire time I read this book.  Self fulfilling prophecy is a prediction that causes itself to become true, because the prediction was made.  That if you think or believe something to happen, it will, because our beliefs influence our actions.  Each chapter I went back and forth between feeling as though the characters were making choices that drove them towards their death dates, thereby confirming what the fortune teller told them, and between feeling as though nothing they could do would change it, because it was their fate/destiny.  It is an interesting concept when you think about it.  How much of the outcomes of our lives are because of the choices we make and what we believe, and how much is because of destiny?  One of the last lines in the book is, "Thoughts have wings."  I thought this phrase summed up the book perfectly and it is a line that quickly became one of my favorite book quotes.

Overall, I ended up enjoying this book.  I was not as emotionally connected to the characters as I like to be, but I think part of that was because I held myself back knowing they would each die.  But isn't that how life is?  We will all die, does that mean we should not get close to others because one day they won't be here anymore?  During our buddy read, one reader made the comment that she was disappointed the siblings weren't closer.  I felt as though I could relate to the siblings, being that I am one of four, as well.  I have found that throughout life we grow apart and then come back together and some of us are closer with others during different stages of our lives.  The one thing we all have in common is that we are siblings.  Other than that, we are very different people.  I felt as though the meeting with the mystical woman created a bigger divide between the siblings, causing them to keep each other at a distance, knowing that they could not get attached to one another.  They each silently suffered after that day and, as is life, hindsight is 20/20.  Each time one sibling passed away, the others reflected on their wishes and regrets.  I enjoyed some characters more than others and I enjoyed how each one processed the news and lived their lives differently.

I rate The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin ★★★★.  I was hesitant at first and did not find myself invested until after Simon's story, but I am glad I finished it because each section rounded out the last.  I highly recommend this if you enjoy literary fiction.  It is a book that after you finish, you will be thinking about.

"Thoughts have wings." The Immortalists
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